In the Company of Genius?

This past week I’ve had the honor of producing an album for FreeHam Records, the little record company I own. I’ve lived inside the control room of a studio in Hollywood, listening closely to what the musicians are playing and making sure their most stirring creations are captured properly on a computer disk. My job is to get the right sounds out of the right people in a moment of artistic inspiration. 

It’s easy. When you’re in the company of magicians, it’s not hard to witness magic.

To say the players on this project are “talented” or “accomplished” is to badly mischaracterize the depth of their genius. They are the finest musicians I’ve ever worked with, and creating a historical record of their abilities, working with them in a collaborative spirit, has been one of the most rewarding experiences in my life. These cats (and a ridiculously gifted kitten) seldom receive acclaim (or fiscal rewards) commensurate with the gifts they bestow, since what they do, I’m sad to report, doesn’t appeal to millions of listeners enamored of whatever’s popular these days. But attention must be paid. Thanks must be given. Respect must be shown. These are people that make life worth living.

The piano-bass-drum trio, the backbone of the record, of Christian Jacob, Trey Henry and Ray Brinker frequently left me speechless. (And that’s hard to do with one as voluble as I.) The profundity of their musical expression, their sense of swing, of soul, of funk, of the eternal groove, is so deep, so enormous, that “the pocket,” that place where musicians feel safe to explore and express, is as big as a canyon. They make me laugh and cry and dance and think — sometimes simultaneously. Fellow musicians call them “solid.” They’re granite.

Abraham Lagrimas (ukelele), Julius Tolentino (alto sax), Zaxariades (guitar and vocals), Richard Ickard (guitar), and Gustavo Garcia (percussion) we’re the “sidemen.” But there’s nothing marginal about these guys. Their instrumental facility, their ease at getting their instruments to say what’s in their hearts is a testament to dedication and practice and all those uplifting concepts of personal betterment. Still, one must have something to say, not merely the language to express. And these guys gave from the center of their soul.

And the singer on this record, the reason we all congregated for a week of music making, Ms. Charmaine Clamor. She’s a special one. Music critics and radio programmers, who have to communicate to their audience in shorthand, have tried to explain what Charmaine does by comparing her voice and style to Sarah Vaughan or Nancy Wilson or Cassandra Wilson. But Charmaine proved this week that she’s in the rarest of categories: she’s in a class by herself. Words like “great” and “sublime” and “astonishing” come close to what she does with her voice. But, honestly, only the ears can fully appreciate Charmaine’s gifts. With the assistance of her ingenious colleagues, she’s going to indelibly change the musical landscape.

I’m honored to have been there to see (and hear) it happen.

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